I’m old-fashioned about many things. I didn’t own a smart phone until 2014. I still believe in saving sex for marriage (and frankly, all of you “very serious” Christians announcing on your OKCupid profiles that you’ll have sex “within 3-5 dates” need to read 1 Thess. 4:3-8 and repent). And I love me a good, paper-and-glue book. I’m a proud member of Book of the Month Club (est. 1926) and they deliver me a hardcover copy of a 2017 new release every month.
I was also pretty stubborn about sticking to a paper copy of the Bible for daily readings. Until recently.
I first read through a paper copy of the Bible in the late 90s, in high school. I had purchased for myself a 1995 NIV Study Bible, stuffed it in a durable cover, and lovingly marked each book with a tab. As I read through it, devouring the study notes, I made my own notes copiously and highlighted generously. That Bible looked like a neon sign in the Red Light District by the time I got done with it.
In college, my pastor gifted me with a one-year Bible that I became particularly fond of. Each day had a reading from the Old Testament, a reading from the New Testament, and a reading from the Psalms or Proverbs. I enjoyed this method of reading the Bible as it breaks up the parts of the Bible that can be tedious or difficult to read straight through, and eventually copied it into the one-year Bible reading plan that I use on this site. I used that Bible so much, the cover fell off.
Up until recently, I hadn’t had a lot of success with reading my Bible every day. Either I just did not have my paper-and-glue (codex) Bible with me, or I groaned at the thought of lugging out a study Bible and queuing up my online reading plan beside it, or it was already dark and I was in bed and I dreaded waking my son with a reading light. The thing about being a single parent to two disabled children is that it is really, really draining. The childless men I have dated have always been a little surprised at how easily I’ll fall into bed between 9-10 PM and refuse to stay up late on week nights, but it’s because my body has learned that, if I don’t sleep when I can, I won’t sleep, and things will get worse.
Bottom line being, no matter how much I liked my habit of having a paper copy to highlight and make notes on, it just hadn’t been working out very well. My life had changed and become more exhausting and hectic, and keeping a paper copy on me at all times like I did in college (and also successfully finding time to read it) was no longer feasible. Or at least, was not the easiest option.
I finally caved and ordered a Kindle Paperwhite. Why a Kindle versus a Nook or some other e-reader? Because it has some of the best reviews among e-readers, and I’m already an Amazon Prime member, so it was $30 off. I’ve owned 3-4 Kindle Fires (which are essentially tablets) and I knew how annoying the ads could be, so I got it without the “Special Offers” (i. e. ads). The price tag came to $109.99, which Amazon will let you pay off in 5 monthly installments of ~$22 at no additional charge.
The other advantage of the Kindle e-reader is that, since it is black-and-white, has no audio, and the Web browser is slow and hard to find, I knew that my children would be less prone to taking an interest in it and trying to take it from me as they do with my phones and tablets. It would only need to be charged every few weeks, rather than every day like most of my devices. I took the plunge.
It’s an investment that has paid off. The ease of keeping the Kindle with me and using it whenever I have spare time has been remarkable. It can hold thousands of books, but barely weighs anything in my messenger bag or purse. If I’m traveling somewhere and my fiancé is driving, it’s a cinch to pull the Kindle out and get my reading done, even if it’s dark out. No need to mess around with a cabin light.
Lunch break at work? Read.
It’s 5 AM and I’m awake but my son is still asleep and I don’t want to turn on a light or move because that will wake him up? Read.
I’m done with my work-out at the YMCA, but my fiancé is still at his? Read—with no clunky book to haul around.
The result has been transformative. I’ve successfully kept up with daily Bible readings for 6 weeks straight for probably the first time since I had a baby in 2006. I miss a day sometimes, but I’ve always managed to make it up the next day. And while I can’t highlight this Bible in colors or glitter pen as my teenage self would have liked, I can make black-and-white electronic highlights and take notes. I can also search my highlights and notes with ease. You win some, you lose some.
I use three different digital book marks to work through my readings from the OT, NT, and Psalms/Proverbs. It works just as well—if not better—than my old method.
Wheaton Professor Alan Jacobs published a thoughtful article in 2011 laying out the pros and cons of a transition from reading the Bible in a codex to reading the Bible on an e-reader. He points out, among other things, that Augustine’s life-changing moment from Confessions wherein he flipped to a random page of the Bible and then showed it to his friend Alypius would not have happened the same way with an e-reader.
This all may be true, but while Augustine was a father (and eventually, a single father), he had a mistress to care for his illegitimate child for much of the child’s life. By the time of his experience with Alypius in AD 386, that child was a teenager who was, by all accounts, highly intelligent. I wonder how much time Augustine would have had for pondering the Bible and pouring through codices had he been a single parent to, not one, but two young children with disabilities. I also wonder how that scene with Alypius would have played out had an autistic toddler been running into the room and shrieking at Augustine every 5-10 minutes.
For me, the advantage of the e-reader over the codex is that I’m reading the Bible again at all, that I can fit it into my hectic life where fitting a codex into it had grown difficult. No matter what the advantages of the codex, an e-reader that’s actually finding its way into my hands will always be better than a codex gathering dust on my shelves.